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You Can’t Go Home Again


Drew DaywaltThomas Wolfe wrote that you can’t go home again.

In his case, he’d written an incendiary novel about his home town that enraged the locals who sent him menacing letters and death threats. In my case, I can’t go home because they’ve torn down damn near everything that made it my home in the first place.

Allow me to back up a beat and catch you up.

I’m currently directing and producing a horror feature that takes place, in large part, in the Midwest, namely Ohio, where I grew up. And more specifically, in my home town of Stow and it’s immediate environs.

Drew DaywaltEven though I eschewed the midwestern life when I went to film school in Boston,  then moved to Los Angeles years ago, I, like everyone else in the world, took a piece of my home culture with me. Ohio, a place where the phrases “Please”, “Thank you” and “No, you go first” are as plentiful and genuine as the cornfields, forests and dairy farms. I know, I know... I’m overly romantic about the midwest because it’s where I’m from, waxing poetic about both land and people.

But I also haven’t forgotten the 6 long months of grey weather that beats down on the landscape and the psyche’s of everyone that lives there. And it’s that grim, grey part of where I grew up that I nourished when I wrote the horror feature I’m making, as well as the one I’m about to film next. Two projects, both ghost stories, written about tired, sagging rural towns; towns that each weigh heavily under their own sighs and looming winter storm clouds.

Additionally, I haven’t been back home to Ohio during the winter or early spring in almost 20 years. Crazy. Right? Well luckily, I’d set my films during grim dead midwestern winter, so on these latest few trips back, I got a big dose of the grey, leafless deadness that blankets the middle north of our country like hushed death.

And I loved every minute of it. The visual pallet of depressing grey and brown, dotted only with bruised blues and stained rusts. It was perfect.

Filming was great. Vast stretches of dead trees, not a leaf or bud to be seen, an unexpected but very welcome blizzard that dropped 15 inches of snow in 8 hours, a rain storm, an ice storm, sleet, trudging with my cast and crew in 8 inches of wet mud. It was a blast. Not for the locals who’d lived through 6 months of that shit already this season, but for us. Because at the end we got to come home to Los Angeles after a couple weeks.

And this brings me full circle... going home.

When filming was done, I took a tour of my home town of Stow, Ohio, only to find that my high school had been torn down, the bike shop where I bought my first bike was gone, city hall was torn down, and there were strip malls and big box stores everywhere that looked just as shitty in Ohio as they do in the San Fernando Valley. And the icing on the cake was when I went to see the 75 year old craftsman home where I grew up, and it was gone. Torn down and replaced by a patch of grass. The garage was gone, our orchard, not a thing remained. It was as if it had been erased. Actually it hadn’t all been erased... there was one tree that had been there since I was a child, and on that tree, I found half of a “D” from where I’d carved my name decades ago.

That’s all that was left.

And even though I’d spent two weeks creating horror in my home town, the real horror for me was seeing an empty field in place of the home I grew up in. And that’s how I came around to the thought that you can’t go home. Ever.

Gaudium Per Atrox